I received the ARC for The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Imagining a world where citizens take turns as prisoners and jailers, the prophetic Margaret Atwood delivers a hilarious yet harrowing tale about liberty, power, and the irrepressibility of the human appetite. Several years after the world's brutal economic collapse, Stan and Charmaine, a married couple struggling to stay afloat, hear about the Positron Project in the town of Consilience, an experiment in cooperative living that appears to be the answer to their problems - to living in their car, to the lousy jobs, to the vandalism and the gangs, to their piled-up debt. There's just one drawback: once inside Consilience, you don't get out.
Well Atwood does it again. She somehow manages to create a world that both intrigues me and terrifies me. Like many people, Stan and Charmaine lost everything with the great economic collapse. Before the collapse, they are newly married and living paycheck to paycheck. Then the collapse happens and they lose their jobs, along with their house. Charmaine works a part time job that barely feeds them, so they live in their car and dumpster dive for food. Then what seems like a miracle: they are offered a place in Positron, a society where the citizens actually take turns living in prison. It's all very weird and kind of crazy, but I have to admit that I would be tempted too. It's this supposed paradise, where they get a regular paycheck and a house and a job. Even when they take their turns in prison, it doesn't really seem like jail. The food is amazing and they all have their duties and stations. One month, they are in prison and the next month, they return to their house where they live as a married couple. During the time when they are in prison, another married couple lives in their home. Trouble arises when Charmaine starts having sex with the married man who lives in her house while she isn't there.
Okay, so the world Atwood built is disturbing and chilling. In the synopsis, it is described as hilarious as well. I think this was supposed to be a dark comedy, but I didn't really find much funny about it. It was hard to warm up to either one of the main characters. I couldn't tell if they loved each other or not. Charmaine is having an affair with the married man who lives in her house when she is in prison. It's like she is two different people: when she is with Stan, she seems to love him but then she meets that other guy and suddenly she can't help but have sex with him. And the sex is quite degrading. Actually, much of the sexual stuff in here is meant to make women into victims. Stan talks of rape and domestic violence as if he commits those acts on a regular basis. Actually, all the men in this book are portrayed as sexual predators and the women are portrayed as very docile creatures . . . except for maybe Jocelyn, but I don't want to give too much away about her. I could still relate to both Stan and Charmaine though. They are both looking for a better life and thinks this is the perfect answer. They just don't realize how much freedom they have to give up. And that is one of the major themes in the book: is it really worth giving up some liberties so that you can have security?
One issue I did have was that the sexism and objectification of women seemed like it was more for shock value than anything else. It just seemed like every single man was labeled a predator and there was no clear motive for the people running the society. Was it about the money or was it about trying to domesticate women? It was so hard to tell. I was also kind of bored towards the end of the book. The first 70% of the book had me eagerly turning the page to see what would happen to the characters and what would happen to the fake society. But then, the action just . . . stopped. And as far as endings go, this one was not my favorite. It seemed hastily thrown together and there were a couple of things that happened to the men that I think were supposed to be good things. But I didn't see it as a very happy ending.
Buy/Borrow/Skip: I would say borrow this one. I am a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and she does an awesome job creating a dystopian society that will give you chills. But the pacing and lack of characterization with this one makes it one of my least favorites.